After being targeted by President Trump with racist tweets — following days of scolding from their own party leaders — four Democratic congresswomen chose to stand together before the cameras and defend their vision for their country.
During a hastily scheduled news conference late Monday, the self-described “Squad” — Reps. Ayanna Pressley (Mass.), Rashida Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.) — spoke in somber and personal terms of their belief in America as a nation of immigrants offering opportunities for women of color like themselves, rather than a country for the privileged. They rejected Trump’s “agenda of white nationalists.”
It was a notable moment underscoring the sharpened nature of politics in the Trump era — four minority women, stepping forward to directly challenge the president’s history of racist and crude remarks, some of which they cited using language rarely if ever uttered in such a formal setting in the Capitol.
“This is a president who has said ‘grab women by the pussy.’ This is a president who’s called black athletes ‘sons of bitches.’ This is a president who has called people who come from black and brown countries ‘shitholes.’ This is a president who has equated neo-Nazis with those who protest against them,” Omar said.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, talked about her dad taking her to the Reflecting Pool on the Mall when she was young and telling her to look around, that the nation she saw belonged to her.
“I want to tell children across this country . . . no matter what the president says, this country belongs to you and it belongs to everyone,” she said, later arguing that Trump was attacking her and her colleagues because he couldn’t win a debate on substance: “Weak minds and leaders challenge loyalty to our country in order to avoid challenging and debating the policy.”
By choice, the four freshmen, who stood in front of the American flag, delivered their statements standing alone.
The message created a striking contrast from Trump, who has embraced divisive rhetoric and told the four women on Sunday morning to “go back” to their countries of origin — though they are all U.S. citizens and all but Omar were born in the United States. Trump spent Monday doubling down on those comments, telling reporters at the White House that the four women hate America and Israel and even suggesting they support terrorists.
“The Dems were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives,’ but now they are forced to embrace them,” Trump wrote in a tweet as the women were standing from the podium speaking to reporters. “That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!”
Omar, who has come under fire for her criticism of Israel that some Jews deemed anti-Semitic, pushed back on that suggestion, arguing that “every single statement that we make is from a place of extreme love for every single person in this country.” She also compared their actions with the words that Trump has uttered.
“This is the agenda of white nationalists,” Omar said. “He would like nothing more than to divide our country on race, religion, gender orientation and immigration status, because this is the only way he knows he can prevent the solidarity of us working together across all of our differences . . . this is his plan to pit us against one another.”
The four women sought to contrast their proposals — fighting for universal health care and the humane treatment of immigrants, for example — with the president’s. Pressley said the group was “sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents” and encouraged everyone to focus on lowering the price of prescription drugs, expanding affordable housing and addressing the crowded conditions of migrants at the border, for example.
“I encourage the American people and all of us — in this room and beyond — to not take the bait,” Pressley said. “This is a disruptive distraction from the issues of care, concern and consequence to the American people that we were sent here with a decisive mandate from our constituents to work on.”
The four freshman lawmakers have tangled with fellow Democrats, most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), who was dismissive of their political influence in the House in contrast to their explosive power on social media.
Pressley, in her remarks, made a veiled jab at Pelosi.
“Our squad is big,” she said. “Our squad includes any person committed to building a more just and equitable world.”
That remark, at least for a moment, served as a brief reminder of the ongoing war between Pelosi, the “Squad” and other more moderate members of the House Democratic Caucus. For the past week, the party has traded barbs on Twitter and in private meetings, with the four pushing back on Pelosi’s moves to isolate them while the speaker’s allies have come to her defense.
Trump’s attack on the four women has created a cease-fire of sorts, as Democrats unified to condemn his remarks. The House plans to vote as early as Tuesday on a resolution condemning the comments. The resolution says Trump’s “racist comments have legitimized fear and hatred of new Americans and people of color.” But below the surface, the divisions remain.
During their news conference, for example, two of the four mentioned impeaching the president. Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) has suggested that he would force a vote on impeachment before members leave for the August recess.
Leaving the room after the news conference, Omar said she would support such an effort, another internal battle bubbling.